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Mason Responds: You’re Still Misreading Josephus

As this letter amply illustrates, when Dead Sea Scroll scholars turn to Josephus and insist on parallels between Josephus’s description of the Essenes and 1QS (the Community Rule), this comes at some cost to Josephus. If Josephus is read on his own terms, the parallels are not so compelling.

For example, my critics assert that “The Essenes’ attitude [to oil] must be due to purity concerns, despite the fact that Josephus attributes it to a preference for being unwashed” (emphasis added). Why “must” it be due to purity concerns? Because of the scrolls, they say, using the scrolls to determine Josephus’s meaning!

They do this over and over. Their closing position is that the burden of proof lies with those who would deny the Qumran-Essene hypothesis. But that’s not how history works. As historians, we stand before the distant human past as an unknown universe to be investigated. The burden of proof lies only and always with the one venturing a hypothesis. The justice system doesn’t require people to prove that they didn’t commit crimes. The one making the positive case always carries the burden.—Steve Mason, York University

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